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May 26, 2008 — — Raymond Burr, who played Perry Mason in the berserk accustomed television appearance “Perry Mason” and afterwards in “Ironside,” lived a abstruse gay activity in Hollywood aback such a adumbration would abort a career.
Burr invented a adventures for himself that included a wife and son who’d died, and acclimated his active agenda as a way to explain why he wasn’t married. But Burr and his partner, Robert Benevides, had a accord for 35 years that was abstruse to best of the apple except for a scattering of abutting friends.
Michael Starr, a biographer for the New York Post, chronicles Burr’s activity in a new Burr biography, “Hiding in Apparent Sight: The Abstruse Activity of Raymond Burr.” Read an extract from the book below.
Chapter Six: Howdy, Partner: A Little R&R
The cardinal of annual appearance and bi-weekly interviews absorption on Raymond’s claimed activity grew as Perry Mason became added and added popular. The accessible was absorbed in this adept amateur who, save for what was portrayed in the media as his abrupt dabbling with Natalie Wood, had one of those faces anybody knew but couldn’t absolutely bout with a name. That was all alteration now. Certainly Raymond’s face was familiar, but now the adverse account of his asleep wife and asleep son affected a activity of its own. Already Perry Mason took off, the dead-wife-and-son adventure was afresh time and again. Raymond could accept concluded it all appropriate afresh and there, blaming the botch on an overeager flat arranger or on his active showbiz naïveté. But he chose to abide perpetrating the fabrications by abnegation to abode them. He would acknowledgment the assured queries about his declared marriages by reciting the facts of his abrupt abutment with Isabella Ward. If the analytic went any added in affiliation to Annette Sutherland or, God forbid, son Michael, he begged off with a terse, “I don’t altercate that.”
Reporters who were abashed by his appearance followed his advance and bound afflicted the subject. He afresh the “I don’t altercate that” mantra so abounding times that writers eventually gave up allurement him about it and relied on rehashing the adventure of his asleep wife and son as fact.
“I apperceive he was 18-carat in affection and afraid people; I don’t anticipate he hid that,” recalled Perry Mason ambassador Art Marks. “But I aloof apperceive he was putting on a appearance for the added things about wives and children. That was my gut feeling. I anticipate the wives and the admiring women, the Natalie Wood thing, were a bit of a cover.”
Even Barbara Hale, one of Raymond’s abutting confidantes, had agitation acute his careful armor. Or, if Raymond did admit in Barbara, he swore her to secrecy. According to Hale, “He had a abundant adulation for Barbara Stanwyck and for Natalie Wood . . . but he said, ‘I was too old for [Wood], but oh, my gosh, Barbara.’ And he said, ‘My wife and little one, that was tragic,’ but he said it was ‘something I don’t allocution about that much.’ And that’s about as abundant as we talked about it.”
Raymond’s arduous Perry Mason cutting agenda would accept fabricated it difficult for him to accept a affair with a affiliate of either sex. So he acclimated his connected hours on the set as a acceptable alibi whenever the accountable of remarrying was raised. “I am an available man, as against to a distinct man,” he lectured one anchorman in November 1957. “A bachelor, according to the dictionary, is a man who has never been married. An available man is not affiliated at the moment. Abounding of these agreement accept burst into disuse.”
Okay, the reporter, pressed, but there’s no wife cat-and-mouse for you aback you acknowledgment home from the studio? “That is actual and it’s a acceptable affair because I’m alive eighteen hours a day and sometimes don’t appear home from the flat at all,” he answered. “I don’t appetite to assume to abstain giving absolute answers”—which is absolutely what he was doing— “but I’ve played attorneys so abounding times I’m accepting to be a curbstone lawyer.”
Raymond was sleeping at the studio, and accomplishing so was now allotment of his weekday accustomed while cutting a Perry Mason episode. Because of his backbreaking assignment schedule, it was generally easier to beddy-bye on the lot instead of authoritative the hour-long drive aback to Malibu or arising at 2:30 a.m. to accomplish the drive from Malibu to Sunset-Western Fox Studios so he could get there in time to apprentice his curve for that day’s shooting. Barbara Hale went home to her bedmate and kids at the end of the day. That wasn’t an advantage for the show’s star, who agitated an astronomic workload on his ample shoulders.
Unlike his costars, Raymond was in about every Perry Mason scene, and he was generally abstraction fourteen or added pages of chat anniversary day. The attorneys scenes abandoned were killers. To accomplish his animated agenda a little easier, he would generally beddy-bye at the flat during the anniversary and would acceleration about 3:30 in the morning to go over that day’s script. His accompaniment in these wee-hours calligraphy readings was generally Paul Kennedy, a adolescent amateur who declared himself, rather strangely, as actuality “at liberty” to assignment with Raymond as a chat administrator (whatever that meant). Raymond averaged about four hours of beddy-bye a night. Six-day workweeks were common, and weekends off were rare. Such was the activity of a television star. As Perry Mason grew in acceptance and CBS accomplished it had a hit on its hands, the arrangement went to abundant lengths to allay its newest meal ticket. Raymond didn’t beddy-bye in aloof any old allowance at the studio; CBS furnished a three-room bungalow for him on the lot, complete with all the amenities.
The adapted space, which was originally congenital for Shirley Temple, included a abounding kitchen, a aggregate active room/bedroom, a ample bathrobe allowance with a cedar-lined applicant closet, a avant-garde bathroom, and a antechamber acclimated by his secretary, Bill Swann—an ex–concert accompanist and “a helluva acceptable guy and rather fey in his way,” according to Art Marks.
Midway through the aboriginal division of Perry Mason, CBS appear it was renewing the show. But Raymond was already alpha to complete the alarm. It had been a year aback filming began on the aboriginal adventure in April 1957. It was a aeon Raymond had adherent to alive batty hours on a television appearance that not alone put the bashful amateur advanced and center, but kept him from absorbing the troops for the aboriginal time in years.
“Let’s aloof say that the allotment isn’t accessory to comfortable active the way I already knew it,” Raymond said. “I alone achievement that I can achieve my own identity, already I adjudge that Perry Mason and myself accept appear to the departing of the road. “Perry Mason has become a career for me . . . all I apperceive is that I work, eat and beddy-bye Perry Mason. It’s a advantageous affair I’m not affiliated now. No woman would accept my assignment schedule.”
It’s a acceptable bet that had Raymond been married, his wife would accept had a difficult time compassionate his growing accord with Robert Benevides, a adolescent amateur Raymond met on the set of Perry Mason. The handsome Benevides, thirteen years Raymond’s junior, had a babyish role in the 1957 sci-fi flick Monster That Challenged the Apple (billed as Bob Benevedes) but was accepting agitation award abiding work. He and Raymond hit it off immediately, reportedly afterwards Robert delivered a calligraphy to Raymond, and their allure to anniversary added grew. Afore too long, Robert—”a nice adolescent and actual affable all the time,” said Art Marks—was active errands for Raymond.
“Benevides started dark about the set with Raymond. I didn’t apperceive who he was at the beginning, but I anticipation he was a acquaintance of Ray’s, and I asked Bill Swann . . . whether Benevides was gay, and he said he didn’t know,” said Marks. “But I apperceive Ray admired [Benevides] and was acknowledging him in some things he capital to do . . . Benevides was autograph a calligraphy or article and Ray was in his corner, so to speak. He was like Ray’s flunky. He would run errands, fly to Phoenix for him, aces article up and appear back. Ray bare bodies like that, because he didn’t accept the time to do it.”
Besides administration the aforementioned initials, Robert and Raymond had somewhat agnate backgrounds, geographically. Robert was built-in in Visalia, California, in February 1930. Afterwards admission from Exeter Abutment Aerial School, he advised amphitheater at the University of California, Berkeley, Raymond’s old stomping grounds, and served in the army during the Korean War. Stationed in Japan, he spent two years as an army action architect and reentered UC Berkeley afterwards his acquittal from the service, admission with a Available of Arts amount in 1955. Afterwards animadversion about Lake Tahoe, he absorbed up with abettor Sid Gold, who got him the job in Monster That Challenged the Apple and roles on television in West Point, Navy Log, and Afterlife Valley Days.
Raymond and Robert were alert in their relationship, and the Perry Mason casting was an acutely abutting and tight-knit group—ensuring that the accord would break cloistral “within the family,” alike if no one was absolutely abiding if Raymond and Robert were lovers. Alike admitting Raymond’s homosexuality was accustomed aural the industry, the aspersion magazines of the time, including Confidential, hadn’t been sniffing around. They had bigger angle to fry, including Raymond’s Horizons West costar Rock Hudson, who was one of their admired targets.
Future cine administrator Arthur Hiller was abaft the camera for several aboriginal Perry Mason episodes. He was chatting with Raymond on the aftermost day of filming one of those episodes aback Raymond mentioned he capital to clean his abode in Malibu but couldn’t acquisition a acceptable contractor. Hiller, who was abacus on a few bedrooms to his own abode in West Hollywood, recommended the two men who’d been accomplishing the work—one of them a huge Raymond Burr fan—and abiding for the men to drive out to Malibu on a Sunday.
“When the workers came to my abode on Monday, I asked them how the affair went on Sunday and they said ‘fine,’ but I could faculty article was off-base,” Hiller said. “They didn’t accept the activity that they had before, or which I expected. I kept at them, ‘What’s the matter?’ Turned out they were activity to do the work, but aback they agape and Raymond opened the door, he was cutting a blush bathrobe. And that put the one who aloof admired him away.”
Raymond had been active a closeted activity in Hollywood for over a decade afterwards alike the aroma of annihilation “untoward” about his lifestyle. Allotment of that had to do with his cachet as a acknowledging amateur in the shadows, out of the spotlight’s absolute glare. Leading-man types—Cary Grant, Randolph Scott, and Errol Flynn amid them—were affair for the rumor mill, but Raymond had consistently aureate beneath the radar.
His acclaimed accord with Natalie Wood helped his straight-arrow image, and he was able-bodied admired amid the above account columnists, abnormally Hedda Hopper. And with her buck boy authoritative a name for himself on Perry Mason, Hedda had added allurement to ensure Raymond’s name was kept abroad from “those” rumors. They could abort a career. Hedda’s adherence to Raymond is illustrated in a adventure told by one of his intimates. One of Raymond’s macho conquests wrote a letter to Hedda, aggressive to betrayal the actor’s secret. Hedda, in turn, wrote to Raymond to accustom him of the situation—and to acquaint him that his abstruse was safe. She would, she told him, “stand up and affirm anything” for him.
For all intents and purposes, he was ambuscade in apparent sight. In September 1954, Raymond abounding the star-studded premiere of Judy Garland’s A Brilliant Is Built-in at the Pantages Amphitheater in Hollywood. It was advised a huge event, alike by Hollywood’s blah standards, and about every A-list celebrity was there. Not alone were there the accustomed newsreel cameras, but NBC additionally aired the bright red-carpet premiere live, for the aboriginal time ever. Jack Carson, who was featured in the movie, hosted the festivities, with emcee George Fisher allurement questions of the two-hundred-plus stars in attendance. A army estimated at twenty thousand able screamed, and flashbulbs popped as the stars, decked out in tuxedos and black gowns, stepped up to the microphone to allotment a quick accost with Fisher.
Raymond, who was aloof aback from addition USO bout of Korea, followed Hedda Hopper up to the microphone as Fisher wiped his countenance beneath the hot television lights. Fisher alien Raymond, who was there with his date, USO castmate Evelyn Russell—and with a dark-haired, nervous-looking adolescent man cutting a aphotic argosy uniform, with a white sailor’s cap angled jauntily on his head. Raymond alien him to the television cameras as “Frank Vitti, a boy that’s with us tonight appropriate aback from Korea.” No one asked why adolescent Mr. Vitti was accessory a Hollywood cine premiere with two basic strangers he seemed to accept aloof met account before.
Three months later, the “Film Events” cavalcade in the Los Angeles Times had a few paragraphs about Raymond’s accessible appointment to the Sixth Army Area in the western States. Already again, he was abutting by Evelyn Russell, Bungy Hedley, Paramount’s Donna Percy, and Frances Lansing—and Frank Vitti. Frank’s name would pop up every now and afresh in annual belief about Raymond throughout the abutting several years. He was declared in annual appearance as “Burr’s nephew,” who was active with Raymond in the Malibu abode (where, apparently, he had his own bedroom). Later, he became the babysitter of Raymond’s Beverly Hills art gallery.
The boilerplate press, though, admired Raymond’s privacy, alike as Perry Mason took off and he became a domiciliary name. The few interviews Raymond did admission afterwards 1957 focused on the appearance and on his crushing workload. Several publications beatific reporters to absorb a day on the Perry Mason set, their belief complemented with the binding timeline illustrating Raymond’s abominable assignment hours. If a advertisement did burrow into his claimed life, it was a “Raymond Burr at home”–type affection highlighting the cuddle zoo at his Malibu agronomical or the gourmet commons he adapted for abutting friends. He was, of course, consistently “too busy” to date anyone steadily.
“It’s accurate that I could like to be affiliated and afterwards this alternation is over, conceivably I can booty time to acquisition someone,” he told Screenland annual in a 1959 article blue-blooded “No Time for Marriage.” The article independent one of Raymond’s longest appear discourses on the accountable of matrimony.
“So far I haven’t met anyone and with an boilerplate fifteen-hour banal schedule, I hardly anticipate it’s apparent . . . For the account of my authoritative my point, however, let’s amplitude our acuteness and accept that the abuse babe does exist,” he said. “When would we go through the aeon of courtship, which is actual important to a woman, especially—and to marriage? And aback would we accept time to get the alliance license?
“Seriously—quite seriously—I durably accept that alliance is to be enjoyed and shared,” he said. “Now I accept a admirable home at Malibu beach, but I’m advantageous if I get to be in it over a weekend. So if I had a wife, I’d apparently alone get to see her over a weekend—unless of advance she confused in actuality with me.”
Raymond’s allocution of alliance was a smokescreen, but there was no abstinent the abomination of his Perry Mason workload and the aftereffect it was accepting on his life. He wasn’t the alone television brilliant accustomed a appearance on his shoulders, but with Perry Mason’s one-hour architecture and its signature attorneys scenes, he was on camera for a amazing 90 percent of anniversary episode. And the Perry Mason casting and aggregation were cutting thirty-nine episodes per division in the aboriginal years—seventeen added episodes than today’s accustomed one-hour television drama.
These assignment demands fabricated alfresco application about impossible, and while Raymond talked of cine projects, the appearance took over his life. Affair in Havana, the aftermost cine he fabricated afore cutting the Perry Mason pilot, opened in October 1957, and he was authoritative affairs for apparition movies that never materialized. One activity for which he had aerial hopes was Robert Blees’s book Naked Is the Flesh. Raymond and abettor Lester Salkow bought the rights to Blees’s book with affairs for axis it into a movie, which Raymond envisioned would be attempt in Italy. The activity died a quick death.
It would be three years afore Raymond had the time or activity to act in addition movie. He didn’t absolutely carelessness date work, though. In November 1959, he appeared with Perry Mason castmates Barbara Hale and William Hopper in a account achievement of The Happiest Millionaire at the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse in Alhambra.
By the end of its additional season, Perry Mason was durably accustomed in the accessible zeitgeist. It was averaging thirty amateur admirers a anniversary and had absurd the Nielsen top twenty— which was apocalyptic account for The Perry Como Show. By February 1959, Como was talking about abrogation his Saturday-night branch to alter Milton Berle as the host of Kraft Music Hall, which aired Wednesday nights. He fabricated the move in September.
Perry Mason’s acceptance broadcast into added areas. Gardner connected to crank out his Perry Mason books, but the television authorization took on a activity of its own. There were Perry Mason lunchboxes and lath games. Sponsors began lining up to buy time on the show, and Raymond, in one instance, complained about the affluence of on-camera smoker aback a cigarette aggregation bought a block of time. Lawyers’ groups began agreeable Raymond to allege at their meetings, and he decidedly accustomed abounding of their invitations. That added weekend travel, generally out of town, to his already-grueling schedule.
“He fabricated a lot of speeches, and he became an administrator of the Freedom Foundation in Washington and would biking there occasionally,” said Art Marks. “He was actual complex with law administration with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. He was actual abundant into who he was as a character. Bar associations gave him all kinds of awards . . . and he batten to them, whether it be in Kansas or Texas. He would fly in for one night and fly aback and be cutting the abutting morning. I said, ‘Ray, why do you put yourself through these things?’ and he said, ‘Because it’s such a abatement to get away. And I adulation it.’ And he did adore it.”
The Perry Mason casting grew acutely abutting and was accustomed as one of the tightest-knit ensemble groups in the business. Raymond, Barbara Hale, William Talman, Ray Collins, and William Hopper all afraid their alone coffee mugs on a aggregate arbor abreast the aback of the set. Applied jokes abounded; anguish and joy were aggregate amid casting and crew. “We saw accouchement abound up and marriages and divorces,” Hale said. “It was aloof amazing. We became actual acceptable friends. It was an continued family.”
Raymond hosted dinners for the casting and aggregation out in Malibu, featuring awe-inspiring spreads of the best aliment and wine. An allurement to a Raymond Burr banquet affair was a approved commodity, with the host whipping up dishes in his huge kitchen. A biographer who was arrive to one of Raymond’s banquet parties declared his host as “sitting at the arch of the huge table like some audibly benevolent medieval squire, casting his arch with absonant amusement at some guest’s joke.”
Jokes, too, were acclimated on the set to affluence the astriction and the long, arid hours. Perry Mason was, in essence, an hour-long cine actuality filmed anniversary week. Tempers flared often, and Raymond acclimated applied jokes to lighten the affection and to bulwark off the airless apathy amid shots. Added generally than not, he was the jokes’ instigator. And added generally than not, Barbara Hale was his target. The belief are legion: Raymond putting a babyish alligator in a drawer on the set, apprehension Barbara’s assured shriek; Raymond bushing Barbara’s absolute bathrobe allowance and bathroom, attic to ceiling, with flowers; Raymond accretion one of Barbara’s old flat anatomy shots assuming her in a leopard-print bikini and agreement it abaft the judge’s chair; Raymond camouflaging Barbara’s car beneath some lumber; Raymond bushing Barbara’s chiffonier with blooming Jell-O. And on and on.
“It went on for weeks. He aloof never chock-full arena gags,” Hale said. “He already took aggregate out of my bathrobe room. He had a barter appear and get it. It went on for two weeks [and] afresh I said, ‘Raymond, this is enough. You get those things aback to me or I am activity to get a absolute lawyer.’ And he said, ‘Nobody beats Perry Mason!’ Anyway, he brought it back, and they alleged me from the set and a affective van was at the gate. He had accustomed me the bill.”
The accurateness wasn’t bound to the Perry Mason costars. Raymond advised anybody on the set as family. The belief about his applied jokes were akin alone by the belief of his acts of affection and benevolence. Aback he heard that adept appearance amateur George Stone was ill—nearly dark and clumsy to acquisition abiding work—Raymond, who didn’t apperceive Stone, assassin him as the Perry Mason cloister clerk. The role appropriate annihilation added of Stone than to sit in a armchair at a board and attending busy. Aback Perry Mason architecture man Irving Pringle burst on the set from a hemorrhaging ulcer, Raymond “took him to the hospital, arrested him in and was up all night with him,” according to Gail Patrick Jackson. Aback he heard from his secretary Bill Swann that a little babe in Massachusetts, who’d been angrily burned, adopted an autographed photo of her hero Perry Mason to a letter from President Eisenhower, he flew to the hospital to appointment her. He was bent aback photographers showed up to certificate the break and banned to let his account be taken.
“There were no secrets about the show. We were an accessible book,” said Art Marks. “There were no amateur problems, really. There was no acrimony amid one actor, one director, or any of that affectionate of crap. Aboriginal of all, we wouldn’t acquiesce it. If an amateur was a problem, that amateur was accounting off, or told off, or corrected. And Ray was the aboriginal to say, ‘I don’t appetite any of that around. I appetite a family.’ “
Raymond lent money to anyone who asked, grew abutting to Barbara Hale’s accouchement (including approaching costar William Katt), and contributed abundantly to accommodating causes. He threw abundant banquet parties for friends, sponsored advance accouchement from Korea and Italy, and puttered about the abode in Malibu on his canicule off, disposed to his menagerie. And, forth the way, he invented addition wife.
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